China Calls for Immediate Halt to War on Iraq
By Brian Rhoads
BEIJING (Reuters - 20 March) - China, in a surprisingly strong reaction to the start
of the U.S.-led war against Iraq, called on Thursday for an immediate
halt to military action and a return to efforts to resolve the crisis
Chinese analysts had expected the government to issue a mild rebuke that
would not risk a setback to improving relations with Washington. Instead,
Beijing chose to focus on the primacy of the U.N. Security Council in
"We strongly urge relevant countries to immediately stop military
action," Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a news conference
without mentioning the United States by name.
"They ignored the opposition of most countries and peoples of the world
and went around the U.N. Security Council to begin military action
against Iraq," he said.
"This constitutes a violation of the U.N. charter and the basic norms of
international law," he said.
"We hope to see an immediate halt to military action and a return to the
path of a political settlement," Kong said.
Kong did not respond directly to questions on the effect the war would
have on Sino-U.S. relations.
Asked if Vice President Dick Cheney, scheduled to visit China in April,
was still welcome, Kong said merely that President Hu Jintao had issued
that invitation when he visited the United States last year as vice
He declined to comment further.
The strength of the government statement surprised Chinese analysts.
Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at People's
University in Beijing, said he had expected an expression of regret and
hope for a resumption of diplomacy and for China, which like France and
Russia pushed for a diplomatic solution in the United Nations, to "keep a
"It's a bit stronger than I had anticipated," he said later. But he said
if the government had been prepared to risk its relations with
Washington, it would not have turned down student applications for
"It's unlikely to have an impact on China-U.S. relations," Jin said.
Other Chinese analysts said the statement was clearly directed at a
domestic audience fed for years on a steady diet of rhetoric about U.S.
hegemony, as well as a global community that had heard Beijing's repeated
calls for peace.
Although China is eager to keep ties with the United States on an even
keel, that would become more difficult if civilian casualties mounted or
if U.S. forces found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction or if
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was killed.
"It's a kind of political posturing by the Chinese side due to strong
opposition to the war at home and abroad," said Wang Yong, executive
director of Peking University's Center for International Political
"But China will not escalate criticism of the United States further,"
Wang said. "The impact on China-U.S. relations won't be huge," he said.
But China's position would change if Saddam used chemical or biological
weapons, analysts said.
"If Saddam really does use them, this will change the attitude of the
United Nations, including China. In this case, the U.S. war will be
justifiable," said Peking University international relations expert Zhu
On the first day of the war, China allowed what appeared to be balanced
reporting by its state controlled media.
In a rare move, state television broadcast live, with simultaneous
translation, the address by President Bush on the start of the war.
Other official news outlets ran the text of Bush's brief speech on their
Web sites in both Chinese and English.
State television also carried a later live broadcast from Baghdad by
Saddam, also with simultaneous translation.
China has boosted security around foreign embassies in the past few
weeks, partly for a two-week session of parliament that ended on Tuesday.
Extra guards were stationed near embassies, some with flak jackets,
helmets and automatic weapons. Several roads were blocked off this week,
including one near the Israeli embassy.